Music Review: NATHALIE JOACHIM & PAMELA Z (Disney Hall)

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by Lyle Zimskind on January 19, 2022

in Concerts / Events,Music,Theater-Los Angeles

A GRAND AVANT-GARDE EVENING ON GRAND AVENUE

Tuesday of last week was a quiet night in downtown Los Angeles, January’s usual gloom conspiring with new waves of COVID statistics to keep people home. The sidewalks of Grand Avenue and its surrounding areas were just about empty. Still, the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s characteristic glint warded off any atmospheric melancholy to herald the first concert of the season in the LA Philharmonic’s perennial Green Umbrella new music series.

We were a smallish audience in that big venue, but we were there to encounter a program of seven short, mostly recent-vintage chamber works, all written by women of color, curated — and hosted — by a pair of prominent contemporary classical performer-composers, Nathalie Joachim from Chicago and San Francisco-based Pamela Z. Both the printed program notes and Joachim’s cheery introductory audience greeting suggested that we were in for an evening of musical storytelling, though truthfully this common element was less apparent than asserted. Even when the narrative was obscure, though, the spry dexterity of the LA Phil New Music Group, in various small ensemble configurations confidently conducted by Jenny Wong, was always on vivid display.

The centerpiece of the evening was a pair of world premiere compositions commissioned for this event, each written by one of the curating hosts for the other to perform. In Pamela Z’s playful Silent H, Joachim fronted the chamber ensemble on solo flute, mimicking recorded snippets of her own spoken conversation in a simultaneous, rhythmically and tonally identical accompaniment. Returning the favor, Joachim’s richly textured In Between showcased the vocal range of Pamela Z. whose sung passages were recorded and mixed into the performance in real time over the course of three brief, beautiful movements.

The program also offered one earlier work apiece by each composer. Joachim’s “Suite Pou Dantan,” excerpted from her album-length opus Fanm D’Ayiti (2019), presaged the harmonic complexities of In Between with an ethereal interplay between a recorded girls’ chorus from her family’s village in Haiti, a string quartet, and the composer’s lead vocal and flute. The Schmetterling (1998) offered the most straightforward story line of the evening, an enjoyable tall tale about an old man who swallows a butterfly, with an acoustic and electronic vocal performance by Pamela Z.

Angelica Negron’s miniature This Person (2016), inspired by a Miranda July story, kicked off the evening. Midway through the program, Allison Loggins-Hull’s The Pattern (2020) evoked the long, violent history of American race relations in a jolting, yet mesmerizing, wordless tour de force. Finally, recent USC masters graduate Nina Shekhar’s epic 9-minute composition Dear Abby (2020)—featuring lyrics taken from, yes, the classic newspaper advice column—brought out by far the largest ensemble of musicians of any piece performed (24 by our count), with both Joachim and Pamela Z and the chamber musicians alike all singing and playing together—to close the concert with an immensely satisfying flourish.

We imagined that most of the works presented might be more impactful in a more intimate performance setting, but exposure is exposure and they certainly merited the imprimatur of an LA Phil performance. On this night they all aligned perfectly, and we’d be intrigued to meet up with any of them again.

Nathalie Joachim + Pamela Z
LA Phil New Music Group, Jenny Wong conducting
Walt Disney Concert Hall
January 11, 2022

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